Congressional agriculture leaders are negotiating a long-term farm bill package to be inserted into a fiscal cliff deal expected by the end of the month.
This activity in Washington has raised hopes that farm and food legislation will get done this year, though many details and the legislative mechanism are far from certain.
The four principals on Capitol Hill — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) — have met several times.
They and agriculture stakeholders in Congress, Washington and back in farm country are counting on the savings offered by a long-term farm bill to be attractive enough to get a suitable package worked into the larger agreement, which faces its own tense negotiations.
The Senate-passed farm and food legislation saves about $23 billion, while the version approved by the House Agriculture Committee would save about $33 billion. Current word is that Congressional leaders are seeking up to $35 billion in savings.
Still on the table are Title I cuts, food stamp spending and the question of how best to implement new long-term legislation if it can be passed before this Congress ends, either by rushing forward changes or by providing a short-term transition period.
The plan also hinges on the successful completion of a deal to attack the fiscal cliff, which is the combination of planned tax hikes and sequestration cuts that will go into effect in early 2013 if new legislation is not passed.
Both Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, offered proposals this week that were soundly rejected by the other side.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Thursday the Obama Administration was “absolutely” prepared to go over the fiscal cliff, though such heady talk is expected to give way to compromise as the end of the year draws nearer.
NAWG President Erik Younggren, who farms in northern Minnesota, came to Washington this week for meetings with several Members and Hill staffers. Younggren and NAWG staff met with House Agriculture Committee staff from both parties as well as staff in other agriculture-friendly offices.
With other agriculture groups, Younggren also met with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “There's too much uncertainty right now to make good business decisions,” Younggren said he told those he visited on Capitol Hill.
“Farming is no different than the rest of the country, that we need to have some certainty as we make our plans going into the next year and even beyond that...that’s why having a five-year farm bill is the only choice that we really have.”
A full audio report from Younggren about the trip is available at www.wheatworld.org/newsroom/audio-updates.
NAWG continues to advocate for approval of a five-year farm bill before the end of the year. NAWG urges all farmers and other readers to contact their Members of Congress and House Leadership on the issue. They can be reached via the House switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
Complete farm bill coverage can be found at http://southeastfarmpress.com/farm-bill-2012).